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Hey Viktor, What Time Is It?

Why Viktor Orban at CPAC is more relevant to US conservatism than the media think
Hey Viktor, What Time Is It?

So, two days ago Viktor Orban gave a speech (transcript here) to CPAC in Dallas. The libs, naturally, freaked out; check out this NYT piece by Blake Hounshell, which in its one-sentence reference to Your Working Boy, manages to make two factual errors about me. These facts were easily checkable; actually, he references a 2021 story from his own paper that included me, and misreports a fact that his own colleague got right back then. Orban's speech must have really upset Hounshell.

The speech was well received, as far as I could tell, by the event attendees. The biggest applause line -- Orban got a standing ovation -- was when he talked about Hungary's approach to gender ideology and the natural family. He said, "The woman is a woman, the man is a man, and leave our kids alone, full stop." You can hear the line in this clip.

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Orban had a funny bit at the top of the speech:

For example, the leftist media. I can already see tomorrow’s headlines: “Far-right European racist and anti-Semite strongman, the Trojan horse of Putin, holds speech at conservative conference.” But I don’t want to give them any ideas. They know best how to write Fake News. Instead, I’ll tell you the truth: in Hungary we introduced a zero-tolerance policy on racism and anti-Semitism, so accusing us is fake news, and those who make these claims are simply idiots. 

Some on the media managed to fulfill their prophesied role. MSNBC headlined the Associated Press report thus:

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"Autocratic," defined by the American Heritage dictionary as "holding independent and arbitrary powers of government." You would never understand, if you followed the American news media and academic commentators, that Orban has been elected four times in free and fair elections. They simply cannot accept that the man is popular with his own people. Nor can they seem to accept that the opposition is hopelessly bad at politics. Orban is the head of government in a parliamentary democracy. He is no more an "autocrat" than Boris Johnson is. This is important, because the AP reporter wrote:

His invitation to CPAC reflects conservatives' growing embrace of the Hungarian leader whose country has a single-party government. 

This is a distortion that borders on slander. It is true that Hungary is governed by Fidesz, Viktor Orban's party. In the same way, it is true that Great Britain is governed by the Conservative Party. Do you know why? In both cases, it's because those parties gained the most votes in elections. In parliamentary democracies, that means that that party forms the government. There is nothing sinister about this at all. But unless you understand this about the small Central European nation, you might assume that the AP is saying that Hungary is a one-party state like it was when the Communist Party was the only one allowed.

Do you see why I keep telling you to be very skeptical of what you read about Hungarian politics?

Last night someone who hates Orban (my friend Conor Friedersdorf) pointed me in a piece to a 2019 piece on him that the peerless conservative writer Christopher Caldwell penned in the Claremont Review of Books. Conor said in his Atlantic piece that if you want to see why some conservatives like Orban, that's the piece to read. He's right, and I'm sorry that I'm just now getting to it. The piece is excellent because it shows how Orban poses serious challenges to the next stage of liberalism. Caldwell begins with a speech Orban gave in 2015, amid Europe's massive migration crisis:

Orbán was preparing a military closure of his country’s southern border. That Europe’s ancient nation-states would serve in this way as the first line of defense for the continent’s external borders, such as the one between Hungary and Serbia, was exactly what had been assumed two decades before in the founding treaties of the European Union, the 28-nation federation-in-embryo centered in Brussels and dominated by Merkel’s Germany. But sometime after Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, this question of Europe’s borders had become complicated, legalistic, and obscured by what Orbán called “liberal babble.” Orbán now had to make a philosophical argument for why he should not be evicted from civilized company for carrying out what a decade before would have been considered the most basic part of his job. His Fidesz party had always belonged to the same political family that Merkel’s did—the hodgepodge of postwar conservative parties called “Christian Democracy.” Now, as Orbán spoke, it was clear the two were arguing from different centuries, opposite ideologies, and irreconcilable Europes.

“Hungary must protect its ethnic and cultural composition,” he said at Kötcse (which more or less rhymes with butcher). “I am convinced that Hungary has the right—and every nation has the right—to say that it does not want its country to change.” France and Britain had been perfectly within their prerogatives to admit millions of immigrants from the former Third World. Germany was entitled to welcome as many Turks as it liked. “I think they had a right to make this decision,” Orbán said. “We have a duty to look at where this has taken them.” He did not care to repeat the experiment.

There it is: does every nation have the right to say that it does not want its country to change? If that is true, then you must accept that Orban's claim that Hungary "must protect its ethnic and cultural composition" is simply a fact of life. It makes liberals (of the Left and the Right) squeamish, but that's how it is in the real world. You'd have to be blinded by ideology to go to Europe and fail to grasp where the liberal belief that all cultures are essentially the same, and can live together in perfect harmony, has been vindicated. When Orban says, "We have a duty to look at where this has taken them," he's talking about the rampant crime, including anti-Semitic attacks, that generations of unassimilable Muslim immigrants communities have caused. It is certainly true that there is, in Europe, discrimination against Muslims. But it is also true that Muslims who refuse to assimilate cause a world of problems. Whatever the causes of the failure to assimilate, Orban is right: Europeans have a "duty" to face the facts, especially if they don't want to lose their country.

(Again and again, I say unto you: there is a very big difference between Europe and the United States! Our culture is far more fluid than European cultures, and it's much easier to assimilate here. I'll write more about that in a future post, with melancholic speculation on why intellectual conservatives of my stripe are never going to be satisfied with what we get in America, because individualism is in America's DNA. Let me point out here, though, that you should not make the mistake of believing that because Europeans superficially look like Americans, that they think and live like Americans. If you do, then you will not understand what Orban is talking about.)

Here is a lengthy passage that tells you more about the Hungary and the Orban that actually exists than anything else I've read in the US media. The media keep portraying Orban like a Magyar Trump, but it's very far from the truth (even though Orban himself loves Trump). I've said here before that I've been in two audiences of Western journalists and intellectuals who have met personally with Orban, and the near-universal reaction is that they can't believe how smart, how sharp, how quick on his feet, and how funny he is. Caldwell:

Orbán is more than the bohunk version of Donald Trump that he is often portrayed as. He is blessed with almost every political gift—brave, shrewd with his enemies and trustworthy with his friends, detail-oriented, hilarious. In the last years of the Cold War, he stuck his neck out further than any young dissident in assailing the Soviet Union. That courage helped land him in the prime minister’s office for the first time in 1998, at age 35. He has a memory for parliamentary minutiae reminiscent of Bill Clinton. At a January press conference, he interrupted a speechifying reporter by saying, “If I’ve counted correctly, that’s six questions,” then answered them in sequence with references to historical per capita income shifts, employment rates, demographic projections, and the like.

His secret weapon, though, is his intellectual curiosity. As Irving Kristol did when he edited the Public Interest in the 1980s, Orbán urges his aides to take one day a week off to devote to their reading and writing. He does so himself, clearing his Thursdays when he can. Raised poor in a small town west of Budapest, preoccupied early by politics, he has had to acquire much of his education on the fly, as a busy adult. His ideas are powerful, raw, and unsettled. Orbán has changed his mind about a lot of things—unregulated free markets above all. Out of a regime of deep reading and disputation come his larger theories about the direction of Western civilization, and many people probably find voting for Orbán satisfying in the way that reading Jared Diamond or Yuval Noah Hariri is satisfying. Orbán believes that Western countries are in decline, and that they are in decline because of “liberalism,” which in his political vocabulary is a slur. He uses the word to describe the contemporary process of creating neutral social structures and a level playing field, usually in the name of rights.

This project of creating neutral institutions has two problems. First, it is destructive, because the bonds of affection out of which communities are built are—by definition—non-neutral. Second, it is a lie, because someone must administer this project, and administration, though advertised as neutral, rarely is. Some must administer over others.

Carried to its logical conclusion, liberalism will, in Orbán’s view, destroy Hungary. “It is not written in the great book of humanity that there must be Hungarians in the world,” he said in his State of the Nation address in February. “It is only written in our hearts—but the world cares nothing for that.” This sense that Hungary might be only one political miscalculation away from extinction is widely shared. There was one country, in the wake of World War I, that was treated more harshly than Germany. The Treaty of Trianon turned a cosmopolitan, advanced central European powerhouse of 20 million people—the Kingdom of Hungary, Budapest’s half of the Austro-Hungarian empire—into a statelet of 8 million and divvied up two thirds of its territory among other nations.

This dismemberment helps explain many of the worst things Hungary did, and had done to it, in the century since. Hitler helped the country recover some of its territories in World War II, but Russia repressed them and then some. The historic heart of Hungary is Transylvania, now on the other side of the Romanian border. Other ethnically Hungarian remnants of the nation are to be found in Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Orbán is fond of a bitter, Trianon-era joke to the effect that “Hungary is the only country that borders on itself.” It is as a nation of 15 million, and not as a state of 10 million, that most Hungarians understand themselves, and Orbán has done nothing to bring them to a more liberal understanding.

Hungary’s most acute present-day problems are partly the result of its four decades under Communism, including the Soviet Union’s bloody suppression of its 1956 uprising. But, like contemporary Russia, the country suffers just as much from the excess of faith it placed in Western expertise during its botched transition out of Communism. One of Orbán’s mentors recalls: “We were all liberals then,” using the term “liberal” to mean believers in markets. But about markets Hungarians had more enthusiasm than expertise. They sold off their best state-owned businesses to foreigners, and saw others taken over by savvy ex-members of the Communist nomenklatura, who knew where value lay hidden. “It was a trap,” says one of Orbán’s younger advisers. “To open markets with no capital. Now we are trying to get out of that trap.”

I was having coffee with a reporter for a major American newspaper yesterday at CPAC, and asked him if he knew what the Treaty of Trianon was. He had no idea -- and really, there's no reason he should. His beat is domestic American politics. I told him that most Americans (including myself) who go to Hungary don't know either, but if you spend any time there, you quickly find out. It is impossible to overstate the depth of the psychic wound that treaty had on the Hungarian nation. It defines much about their politics today. They were taught a hard lesson about what it means to be weak and not in control of one's own destiny. Their king, an Austrian Habsburg, got them into the Great War, and for it, they lost two-thirds of territories that had been theirs for centuries, and in which many of their people lived. You don't have to be a Hungarian irredentist (that is, someone who wants to reclaim that land) in order to understand what that kind of thing can do to a people. It leaves them feeling extremely vulnerable.

As a Hungarian friend told me when I first came to the country in 2018, Orban spent a lot of his time and effort during his first term trying to repatriate major Hungarian industries that had been sold off to Western investors after Communism collapsed, precisely because he knew that as long as the country's industries were controlled by foreigners, Hungary was not the master of its own fate. This is a lesson the US is having to learn in the wake of Covid, when we awakened to discover that many of our medicines are manufactured in China. The cost of globalism has made us weaker and more vulnerable to regimes that hate us.

If you read the US media, you may think that the choice facing Hungarian voters is between normal democratic parties, and Orban. You would be quite wrong. Caldwell:

Between 1994 and 1998 the supposedly free-market heirs to the anti-Communist dissidents ruled in coalition with former Communists. Orbán took office in their wake, ran a responsible, lean, relatively patronage-free government for four years…and was bounced from office in 2002. That taught him a lesson. The years 2002-10 saw the full restoration to power of those who in the 1980s had been trained as the next generation of Communist elites, dominated by the Socialist multimillionaire Ferenc Gyurcsány. Penury and soaring unemployment marked the time. In 2006, Gyurcsány was captured on tape at a party congress explaining that “we lied, morning, noon and night” to stay in power. Protests arose. Police repressed them violently. Orbán’s detractors rarely mention any of this when they complain about the lack of an alternative to him. For most Hungarians, 2006 is the alternative.

This is a point that cannot be made strongly enough. Gyurcsany still controls the Left opposition. It is easy to meet Hungarian voters who are fed up with Orban, but who will not under any circumstances vote for the Left, because they know they are voting for a return to power of the successor to the Communists. When Orban said to the Dallas CPAC crowd that in their experience liberalism is communism, he was not simply making a red-meat remark. This is literally true, in a real sense, for Hungarians. The Polish statesman and philosopher Ryszard Legutko has made the same point eloquently in his excellent book The Demon in Democracy, in which he explains how it was that savvy Communist apparatchiks managed to refashion themselves in the wake of 1989 as Brussels-oriented technocrats -- and how it was easy to do, because it turns out that the Brussels idea of liberalism has a lot in common with Communism. There's a direct line between what Legutko and Orban see, and the ability of people who escaped Communism to see that we here in the West are falling into a softer form of totalitarianism, though most of us don't know it. This, of course, is the message of my book Live Not By Lies.

Caldwell recalls how Orban's strong economic policies after winning the premiership in 2010 dragged Hungary out of the deep ditch into which the left-wing government had led it. As far as I can tell, no Western journalist ever talks about how horrible the Hungarian economy was after eight years of Socialist government, and how quickly Orban turned it around. But Hungarians remember -- and they vote.

Caldwell talks about how Orban was one of the first conservative leaders to recognize that you can use a strong state to achieve conservative ends. The problem with this is that such a strong state has more power than it perhaps should to pick winners and losers, and to stack bureaucracies with its supporters. But -- and here is a key point -- this is what the respectable Left already does all over Europe! It's the same thing in the United States. For left-wing people, this is just the normal state of affairs; it is only a problem when right-wing politicians fail to understand that the Left is the rightful governors of these institutions.

Orban's Fidesz party turned in 2010 to revising Hungary's constitution. This did not go down well with the left opposition:

The opposition now turned to denying the legitimacy of the constitution altogether. Whenever thwarted in local political give-and-take, it summoned imperial help from outside the constitutional system: from the European Union and (when Barack Obama was in office) the United States. Last year the Dutch Green-Left party member Judith Sargentini submitted a motion to the E.U. Parliament alleging corruption and the violation of the rights of minorities and migrants. The Parliament condemned him for “a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.” Orbán saw it differently: There was no clash of values, only of classes. He had kept Hungary from being bullied by bankers, bureaucrats, and other powerful rule-making foreigners. This naturally upset the powerful rule-making foreigners and their allies within Hungary.

Culture war as class war. Are you getting it yet? Are you getting why a certain kind of American conservative sees an ally in Viktor Orban?

Like all European countries in an era of falling birthrates, Orban faced the prospect of inviting in immigrant workers to man the factories. But:

On this, Orbán would not budge. As he saw it, the combination of Anglophone Hungarian businessmen and waves of manual laborers disinclined to learn the beautiful, impossible Magyar language would mean the end of Hungary. Migration from the south, he believed, whether orderly or disorderly, would produce a special kind of country, of the sort that did not exist in western Europe until the most recent decades but which had been the norm in Hungary’s Balkan neighborhood until quite recently—not just in the Habsburg and Romanov empires but also in 20th-century Yugoslavia. Such countries, he told a group of Christian intellectuals in 2017, run the risk of having their culture wiped out:

They will become countries with mixed populations, with a Christian element and a non-Christian element which has a strong religious identity. And if I judge the laws of biology and mathematics correctly, the ratio between these two elements will continuously shift away from Christianity and towards the non-Christian religious communities…. [H]ow this will end is mathematically foreseeable.

Orbán wanted desperately to avoid that. “[W]e want a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe,” he said. So he sought alternatives to Muslim immigration that would allow him to keep Hungary’s full-employment economy from stoking inflation. 

What Orban said a couple of weeks ago in Transylvania is nothing new. When he said "mixed race," he was, to anybody who has been following his rhetoric over the years, clearly not talking about anything akin to Nazi racial theories about Aryan superiority. He's talking about the clash of civilizations. To Orban, the "mixed" thing is about RELIGION AND CULTURE. He is a Hungarian Christian politician who believes that Hungarian culture and the Christian faith are worth preserving. You can't have that without Hungarian Christians. It doesn't require making a judgment that Muslims are inferior. In fact, it respects the fact that Muslims have a strong culture and strong religion of their own -- and that it is therefore inimical to Christianity.

Turkey's PM Erdogan is a committed Muslim leader of a great Muslim nation. If he was faced with the prospect of mass Christian migration to Turkey, especially if Christian populations were more fertile than Turkey's native Muslim ones, who could possibly blame him for not wanting to open the door to the Christian masses? In 1978, the Algerian leader Boumedienne said in a speech:

One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends.
Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.”

This is what European politicians like Viktor Orban take seriously. More recently, in 2011, Turkish PM Erdogan went to Germany to speak to the large Turkish population there. From a Der Spiegel report:

Human rights, innovation, progress -- the rural way of life that many Turks now living in Germany left behind them in the 1960s, no longer exists, Erdogan told the crowd. "We mustn't cling to it anymore. I want you to learn German, that your children learn German, they must study, do their masters degrees. I want you to become doctors, professors and politicians in Germany," says Erdogan.

And then he repeats the sentence that caused such a stir at a speech he held  in Cologne three years ago. He warns Turks against assimilating themselves. "Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don't assimilate yourselves. No one has the right to deprive us of our culture and our identity."

This is exactly the kind of thing that alarms Viktor Orban -- and not just Viktor Orban. Some secular gay journalists, like the expat American writer Bruce Bawer and Britain's Douglas Murray, fear growing Islamic power in Europe because they know that in a Muslim Europe, life will be much harder for gays and lesbians. (In Orban's Hungary, same-sex marriage is not permitted, nor is gay adoption, but civil partnerships are recognized, and one often sees gays and lesbians holding hands in the streets of Budapest.)

Erdogan and Orban both understand the power of culture, and of race -- "race" being a synonym for "nation" or "tribe" -- to overwhelm deracinated secular liberalism. Liberalism, in Orban's view, leaves a nation weak before the challenges, or threats, from rival nations that have stronger cultures and religions. This is a fact of life that liberals of both Right and Left cannot bear to accept -- but as Orban has said, we have a duty to face facts. You may wish to believe that you can have mass migration and not change your national culture, but you are lying to yourself. And once the migrants are in, they're in -- they're not going anywhere. Orban said the other day in Dallas that the greatest gift a people can give to its children is a future. The decisions politicians and democratic polities make today about mass migration determine the future of nations forevermore.

In a section of his piece discussing George Soros, who has been demonized by Orban, Caldwell goes beyond the shallow American journalists' assumption that Orban's vigorous opposition can only be anti-Semitic. He writes that nobody in Hungary had ever seen rich foreigners spending so much money to change their political culture. More:

One of the strange things about modern political rhetoric is that Viktor Orbán should so often be described as a threat to “democracy,” although his power had been won in free elections. Against this elective power were ranged not one but two oppositions. There was an ordinary electoral opposition contesting arguments within democratic politics. But alongside it was an opposition rooted in activist foundations and ideological lobbies, operating outside of formal democracy but always, it seemed, invoking democracy’s name. Such lobbies are familiar in the United States. It is the American tax code that gave rise to the system in the first place. The very rich can shelter from taxation much of the money they use to influence politics. The American foundation system was multifaceted, innovative, and mighty.

In Hungary the system was new, foreign, disruptive, and associated with one individual: the American currency trader and hedge fund pioneer George Soros. 

Because liberal Americans and Western Europeans agree with Soros's progressivism, they think that his attempts to civilize the Magyar barbarians are perfectly natural, and that anyone who opposes them has to be a bigot, and probably a Jew-hater too. But Orban correctly saw Soros as a mortal threat to Hungary. Caldwell:

Soros personified opposition to the nationalist outlook Orbán had wished for in his 2015 Kötcse speech. In the wake of Merkel’s invitation to migrants in 2015 Soros published a plan to bring a million refugees a year to Europe and distribute them rapidly among neighboring countries for settlement. The plan would, Soros wrote, “mobilize the private sector,” but only to run the project, not to pay for it. The funding of it would be done at taxpayer expense, through a €20 billion E.U. bond issue. Orbán published a six-point plan of his own, focused on keeping migrants out. Soros complained that it “subordinates the human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants to the security of borders.” That description was exactly accurate —provided one understands human rights as global philanthropists, political activists, and the United Nations have defined it in recent decades. But there is a competing understanding of human rights in the old law of nations, which makes any right to immigrate dependent on the consent of the receiving nation.

More:

Orbán was very worried about the role of foreign money in his country’s politics. Some have mocked him for this. But obviously, when the most powerful country on earth has just brought its democracy to a standstill for two years in order to investigate $100,000 worth of internet ads bought by a variety of Russians, it is understandable that the leader of a small country might fear the activism of a political foe whose combined personal fortune ($8 billion) and institutional endowment ($19 billion) exceed a sixth of the country’s GDP ($156 billion), especially since international philanthropy is (through the U.S. tax code) effectively subsidized by the American government. 

And:

The anti-Soros ad campaign drew accusations of anti-Semitism. Whether those accusations were justified or not is not an easy matter to settle. Reportedly, the ads were dreamed up by the late Arthur Finkelstein, the Reagan-era Republican campaign consultant, long known for personalizing political conflicts. Some were in poor taste. There was one posted on the steps of streetcars so that passengers had to tread on Soros’s face as they climbed aboard. Archetypally, the ads did resemble anti-Semitic campaigns of yore. They showed Soros as a puppet-master, a power behind the scenes. Of course Soros was a power behind the scenes. But Hungary was a country where 565,000 Jews—more than half the Jewish population—had been murdered after the Nazi invasion in May 1944, and a bit more circumspection was expected from its politicians.

The Orbán government, in its four terms in power, had not acted in such a way as to give rise to accusations of bigotry. It had passed a law against Holocaust denial. It had established a Holocaust Memorial Day. It had reopened Jewish cultural sites and refused to cooperate with Jobbik, the leading opposition party, which had a history of anti-Semitic provocations and sometimes commanded 20% of the vote.

The loudest accusations came from western Europe—the very place where, since the turn of the century, in the wake of heavy Muslim immigration, anti-Semitism had risen more sharply than any place on the planet. France in particular had seen a dozen instances of anti-Semitic murder and terrorist violence, all of them perpetrated by the offspring of migrants. Hungary’s 100,000 or so Jews probably had as much to fear from Soros’s plan of open borders as from Orbán’s plan to limit the influence of NGOs.

I agree with Caldwell that Orban and any European leader, in the wake of World War II, has to be very careful about the language he uses vis-a-vis Jews and ethnic minorities. This is why Orban's rhetoric about "The Camp of the Saints" and "mixed-race" was wildly imprudent, even if (mostly) defensible. Nevertheless, I never fail to be appalled by the total hypocrisy of Orban's Western critics, who call him anti-Semitic despite what he has done to fight anti-Semitism in Hungary, despite the fact that in this spring's elections, political anti-Semites were officially with the anti-Orban opposition, and most of all, because Jews are far safer physically in Orban's Hungary than in all the liberal European nations that have welcomed large Muslim immigrant populations. Today is Shabbat. In Vienna, Jews worshiped in a synagogue guarded by armed Austrian soldiers. In Budapest, just two hours away by train, Jews worshiped freely, without fear. Why is that? I know why liberals ignore the question: because it challenges their ideological principles.

But if you are Jewish, and you prefer to go to shul without fear of being beaten up or killed by Muslim Jew-haters, this matters. Your life depends on it.

Caldwell concludes on the neuralgic point for Orban and his future:

The Anglo-American journalist John O’Sullivan, who now heads the Danube Institute in Budapest, put the basic question of Hungarian politics best when he asked: “How will an Orbán government reconcile its resistance to governance by supra-national elites with its considerable dependence on European Union subsidies?” The question can be asked even more broadly. As corporations and political authority grow increasingly intermingled, maneuvering room narrows for politicians like Viktor Orbán. This is the way he sees it himself. “Although we’re convinced that we’re right factually and morally, and that we represent Europe’s interests, perhaps no prime minister and country has ever had a reputation in Western Europe which was as bad as mine and Hungary’s today,” he told a Budapest audience in late March. “Someone must come along with us, because we can hold out for a while, but we cannot hold out forever.”

The period that began at Kötcse in 2015 is now moving towards either a resolution or an escalation, for Hungary and for Europe along with it.

That piece -- read the whole thing here -- was published in 2019. It's still true today. Europe will either go the way of multiculturalism, gender ideology, and mass migration, or it will go the way of Viktor Orban's national conservatism. There is no third way. But the EU is putting the financial screws to Hungary, and Orban and his country are even more isolated today than they were in 2019. This is why he came to CPAC: to make a case to American conservatives that they should care about Hungary, and identify with its struggle. Because of the attention that Tucker Carlson and I have brought to Hungary, he sees an opening there to appeal to the American Right. It seems to me that he is wisely hoping for a Republican restoration in 2024, and whatever help it could mean to have a friendly national conservative/populist administration in power in Washington.

As you know, I have advocated for US conservatives to pay attention to Orban and learn from him, even though the United States is NOT Hungary, and shouldn't try to be. What can we learn, though? Chiefly, that we are not in a time of normal politics, but one in which the survival of Western civilization is at stake -- and we who are grateful for Western civilization, despite its many flaws, are losing. Second, that we have to be willing to do what the liberals do: use the power of the state for our own ends. Liberalism is not neutral; that is a fiction. Orban understands this. It is imperative that the Right learn this lesson and apply it, given that the only institution the Right has any meaningful influence in today is the state. I mean, look, when even the US military has gone woke, we are in serious trouble. If the Right has lost the military, and lost business, what's left?

This is what the Claremont Institute people mean when they ask, "Do you know what time it is?" Ben Weingarten writes:

To reiterate: We are in a fight about the most fundamental things, mired in a Cold Civil War at home and a Hot War by Other Means abroad. The aggressors are our woke ruling class and Communist China, to which the former kowtows and increasingly seeks to emulate.

Big business hates our guts. Big tech wants us silenced. Schools want to indoctrinate our kids into racial Marxism. The justice system punishes dissenters from ruling class orthodoxy and rewards its friends. The national security apparatus wants to pursue rightly outraged parents like they’re al-Qaida.

At every turn, the institutions privilege non-Americans, and criminals, over law-abiding Americans. The ruling class breaks every rule, and seeks to break the Americans they hold in such contempt with those rules.

This effort accelerated with the revolt of every power center of the country against Donald Trump. But it is climaxing with every power center in the country targeting dissenters down to the last nameless, faceless resister of its every diktat.

To focus on anything else is to bury the lede. When the ruling class is obliterating the American way of life, the old emphases are simply inapt. We must know what time it is, and operate accordingly.

Y'all know that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. But I am far less of a fan of the people who consider themselves his implacable enemies. Elizabeth Zerofsky has a good, meaty feature about the Claremont Institute in today's NYT Magazine. It shows why conservatives like me admire most of what Claremont does, though I draw a clear line on the other side of John Eastman's attempt to come up with a plan for Trump to overturn the 2020 election (which I believe he lost; Viktor Orban, at CPAC, warned generally against indulging in conspiracy theories, saying, "We may gain immense popularity on internet forums by promoting conspiracy theories – and indeed sometimes there is truth in them; but in reality we will alienate a large proportion of the electorate, find ourselves pushed to the margins, and eventually we will lose.")

Nevertheless, I find it hard to relate to conservatives who can plainly see how insane our woke institutions have become, how implacably hostile they are to conservatives (even conservative Democrats), and what the stakes are for our future (e.g., we now have the Left pushing for the state to stand between parents and their children, in public schools and elsewhere, for the sake of transitioning children to the opposite sex), and not understand what time it is.

Here's a simple test: in Michigan, voters disgusted over the presence in a local public library of a pornographic graphic novel called "Gender Queer" -- which depicts a teenage boy giving another one a blow job, among other things -- voted to defund the library after the staff refused to remove that title and others from the shelf. From the Guardian article:

“Our libraries are places to read, places to gather, places to socialize, places to study, places to learn. I mean, they’re the heart of every community,” Deborah Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told the Guardian. “So how can you lose that?”

... “Our librarians are qualified. They have advanced degrees,” she said. “We want to make sure that the people who have been hired to do this work are trusted and credible, and that they’re making sure that the full community is represented within their library. And that means having LGBTQ books.”

So, Deborah Mikula says that public libraries are "the heart of every community," but also resents that the community expects its basic standards observed when it comes to putting pornographic and sexually explicit material on shelves, because it reflects the people's distrust of experts "with advanced degrees."

Team Mikula would say that the voters of Michigan, by voting to withhold their taxes from the library because the librarians refuse to respect community standards, are behaving undemocratically. Team Mikula types also say that when the democratically elected party of Viktor Orban does similar things in Hungary, it is "undermining democracy."

What do you think? Are the voters in that Michigan town undermining democracy, or practicing it? How you stand on that point will say a lot about how you should regard Viktor Orban. And if respecting democracy requires parents to be neutral about the presence of "Gender Queer" on school reading lists and in libraries, well, requiring a community to commit moral suicide for the sake of democracy is going to be a hard sell to many people. From "Gender Queer" (I have blotted out parts):

UPDATE: Patrick Deneen and Gladden Pappin report from their recent interview with Orban that the PM said he was wrong to have been so careless with his language, regarding the "mixed-race" controversy:

Orbán expressed at once consternation over the obvious efforts to misread what he had actually said, and some regret that his words had not been chosen with more cognizance of how those who oppose him would eagerly misinterpret them. As he has clarified many times before and since, the word faj (race or kind) for a Hungarian meant not biological or ethnic particularity, but shared identities that are formed by culture and “civilization.” It was in the same sense that Pope Francis has also used the word “race”: a worldview shaped by a cultural inheritance, one that is in no way determined by, or linked to, racial characteristics related to one’s DNA.

As I have repeatedly said here, if you read the entire Orban speech, you will see the context, and understand that Orban was speaking exactly as Pappin and Deneen say above. If you are unwilling to read the Orban speech, then you are operating in bad faith, and your criticism should not be taken seriously.

More Deneen and Pappin:

Orbán recognizes the incoherence of the liberal view: Europe has opened its borders to a large number of migrants who do not embrace the liberal view of “multiculturalism.” Migrants from Islamic origins are not “cultural relativists,” but gladly enjoy the liberal toleration that allows them to gain a foothold and, increasingly, numerical superiority in the democracies of Europe. Orbán notes that the nations of Europe are now “post-Western,” places that no longer recognizably reflect a distinctive European cultural inheritance. By contrast, the nations of eastern Europe are now the bearers of Western civilization, and in the speech, Orbán asked the leaders of “post-Western” Europe (i.e., nations in the western part of Europe) to extend toleration to the nations of the West (i.e., eastern Europe) to live, pass on, and protect the distinctive tradition that the post-Western nations have abandoned. The West has moved to the east; in the west, it has ceased to be the West.

During our discussion, in a frank and entirely spontaneous moment, Orbán demolished any of the tendentious efforts to tag him as a “racist” in the American sense. Asked for his view of the possibility of reversing trends in the “post-Western” Europe, he offered a pessimistic assessment. Because culture is the product of its people, the current displacement of a European culture with one likely to be increasingly dominated by Islam is not likely to be reversed. He said, however, that he had more hope for America.

Why? we asked.

“Because of the Mexicans!” said the prime minister of Hungary.

Immigrants have historically assimilated to, even while enriching American culture, he noted, rather than changing its fundamental basis in Western civilization. Hispanic Americans are Western and Christian, with strong family values and, according to Orbán, they will be able to maintain the basic cultural and political forms of the American tradition.

To be sure, Orbán is to the right of contemporary progressives who pretend that culture, religion, and civilization don’t matter when considering immigration. Under the assumption that all humans can become “multicultural” by embracing a primary viewpoint of mandatory indifference, they falsely believe culture is ultimately a voluntary and chosen identity that can be easily discarded in favor of another tradition, a bricolage, or none. Yet their openness to Hispanic immigration actually bolsters the Western, Christian tradition that they regard as irrelevant and even anathema.

Orbán is, however, to the left of many contemporary American conservatives who have been deeply suspicious of Hispanic immigrants. So long as immigrants share the basic civilizational commitments of the places they are joining, they are likely to strengthen and bolster its social fabric. Yes, their numbers should be controlled by law and intent—border sovereignty is essential—but “racial” (i.e., biological) considerations are not relevant. What is relevant is whether new members will embrace and reflect the culture that they are joining. For this reason, Orbán expressed great hopes for the future of America, which he thinks is de facto more similar to Hungary than “post-Western” Europe in its preservation of a coherent culture—even if its current elites are incapable of recognizing this rather rich irony.

Rich irony indeed! I strongly oppose open borders anywhere. All nations -- Christian, Muslim, European, African, whatever -- have the right to determine who enters. That said, it does not matter overmuch to me that the United States remains Northern European (my own ethnic heritage) than that it remains Christian. This is not because I think that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and so forth, are lesser people -- all are equal in the sight of God -- but rather that I believe Christianity is true, and not only that, I cherish the fruits of Christian culture. I have spoken with Hungarians who are not serious believers, but who want to live in a Christian culture because they believe that the things that they cherish as classical liberals are fruits of Christianity. (My argument to them is that you cannot long hold on to those good things without a real Christian faith.) If the best way for the United States to remain meaningfully Christian is for it to become more Hispanic, then I'm fine with that. Two years ago, my niece married a Colombian man she met at church. They are devout. Now they're going to have a baby. My family is becoming slightly Latinized. This is a good thing! I don't care who my children marry -- Latinos, Africans, Asians, whatever -- as long as they marry devout Christians.

Comments

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Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
The NYT's take never fails to surprise in its ability to hit new lows:

"This is why we fought at Nandorfehervar/Belgrade, this is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna, and — if I am not mistaken — this is why, in still older times, the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers,” Orban said, a reference to long-forgotten historical battles between the Hapsburg dynasty and Ottoman empires, and between the Franks and the Umayyad Caliphate in 732."

Long forgotten? Poitiers, Vienna and, let me add, Lepanto are impressed in the mind of every European. Those were pivotal points of history, in which the very existence of Europe was at stake.

The ignorance of this guy is beyond belief.
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    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    The battle of Lepanto put the Spanish Empire in Italy and Venice's commercial empire at risk, not all Europe.
    The first siege of Vienna by Suleiman was a grave danger-- the second one the last gasp of a empire whose dry rot was already fully visible. The Turkish defeat (which forced their withdrawal from forward possessions they had recently gained in Ukraine) opened up Ukraine to further Russian advances.
    schedule 1 week ago
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Giuseppe Scalas
      I disagree upon Lepanto. As the first Vienna thwarted the Turkish ambitions on land, Lepanto thwarted them on sea.
      But, whatever the interpretations, about which there can be legitimate differences, there's no doubt that those battles aren't "long forgotten" in Europe.
      schedule 1 week ago
        JON FRAZIER
        JON FRAZIER
        Any more than Gettysburg and Yorktown are forgotten here. People should not forget their history. But they do need to remember that the past is the past and it should not be raised from the grave by zombie-master demagogues and set to ravening on the present. (No, I am not accusing Orban of that-- but the Balkans and its hatreds are what you get when people cannot leave the dead to bury the dead)
        schedule 1 week ago
Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
Another proof of the intellectual dishonesty of Liberals.

From the NYT (quoting Elizabeth Zerofsky):

"“I’m still surprised,” she said in an interview. “To have the leader of a foreign country speaking at a major gathering of a foreign country — that seems like a big deal to me.”"

What?! You libs pandered and abetted globalism since, well, ages, and you are surprised that political line-ups are now global?! That's hard to believe.
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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
Identifying liberalism with Communism as some sort of isomorphism is a howling absurdity-- every it as much as identifying conservatism with fascism.
I'm willing to cut Rod some slack on Orban. but my principle criticism remains: he's approaching the point where he's overstaying his appointed time on the stage. At this point he should be grooming his successor. If his politics is that popular he should have no trouble finding such a person. Which doesn't mean he has to retire to a cloister. He can remain on the sidelines writing and advising as much as he wants. But power is one of life's greatest and most perilous temptations and the ideal for every leader in a republican (small "r") state remains George Washington and Solon, who knew when it was time to go.
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ROBERT GRANO
ROBERT GRANO
My s.o.p. when it comes to liberals and progressives in the media is to assume up front that they are lying or at least twisting the truth. That way when on occasion they do get things right, one can celebrate accordingly. With ideologues truth always serves the agenda, not the other way around. Christ told us to love our enemies; I do not see anywhere that he told us to <i>trust</i> them.
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Chris Karr
Chris Karr
On the Michigan library defunding, the voters exercised their democratic rights to decide as a community what they would and would not support with their tax dollars. I think it was a monumentally poor decision (I'd wager that the library was used for MANY more uses than just checking out LGBT books), but it was theirs to make.

That said, your coverage of the issue makes it sound like the librarians were handing volumes out to children, when instead the librarians pulled the book (they DID remove it from the ADULT shelf) and put it behind the counter to be made available upon request. From your link:

"The controversy in Jamestown began with a complaint about a memoir by a nonbinary writer, but it soon spiraled into a campaign against Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the author’s experience coming out as nonbinary, dozens showed up at library board meetings, demanding the institution drop the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes."

"One library director resigned, telling Bridge she had been harassed and accused of indoctrinating kids; her successor, Matt Lawrence, also left the job. Though the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available."

I think that the librarians are right to push back on this and to resist serving as the filter for what the community they're serving can and cannot read. (After reading Orbán's speech, if I wanted to check out "The Camp of the Saints" to read it and decide for myself, should an activist librarian tell me no?) Let's say that they compromised and sent their volumes of "Gender Queer" to a neighboring town's library, but the book was accessible via Inter-Library Loan. Would the town create rules that prohibits patrons from requesting the book from another library, lest the library be defunded for that?

This seems like an example of a community cutting off its nose to spite its face, and I suspect that there is likely even MORE objectionable content than Kobabe's memoir that flew beneath the radar because it was purely written word and not in a graphic novel format. (I'd also be curious whether there was a similar controversy around Alan Moore's graphic novel "Watchmen", which the library appears to have carried for years, and features Dr. Manhattan walking around with his wang out for much of the story, where a sexual assault is a significant plot point.)

For all the talk here about "soft totalitarianism", being told what you can and cannot read (especially as a young adult approaching maturity) seems quite authoritarian, when there's two very ready solutions of parents EITHER trusting their children and teens enough with what they read that they can have a library card OR if what's in the public library is questionable, NOT giving the kid a library card or granting permission to go there, and have the Parents check out books on behalf of their children and take seriously their job to monitor what their children are consuming. This isn't a novel idea - this is something parents have been doing for decades when they were worried about what their kid might stumble upon in the public library. (I knew plenty of kids denied library cards by their parents growing up.) That said, I'm also a fan of localized "laboratories of democracy", so if the members of the Jamestown community want to be known as a place where the moral panic over "grooming" has taken hold and community members are fearful of public libraries, that's their decision to make and reputation to cultivate.
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    Joshua Bay
    Joshua Bay
    Should libraries house hardcore porn? Well then why should they stock softcore porn?
    schedule 1 week ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      We shouldn't have porn in libraries. But we can have adult appropriate material reserved for adults. And we do need a well-defined definition of "porn". It can't just be some subjective standard that reduces to "something someone doesn't like"
      schedule 1 week ago
        Chris Karr
        Chris Karr
        The Supreme Court has wrestled with this for decades.

        "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." -Justice Potter Stewart, 1964[1]

        [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacobellis_v._Ohio
        schedule 1 week ago
          JON FRAZIER
          JON FRAZIER
          The Supreme Court cannot write positive law*. Legislatures and city councils can. Yes, a porn ordinance spelling out exactly what is and isn't porn would be tedious to write, but hardly outside human ability to do so.

          * Something I also have to remind liberal friends of when they fret and fuss that he Court, all on its own, will ban abortion.
          schedule 7 days ago
          Chris Karr
          Chris Karr
          No argument re: positive law, Jon Frazier. Just pointing out that whatever standards a council or legislature drafts still must be compatible with the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, and that the Court has struggled in this area.
          schedule 7 days ago